Chemotherapy is a common treatment for breast cancer which often comes with a range of potential side effects. Breast Rehab offers therapies that can help you manage and minimize the impact of these effects.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemo is a treatment that usually uses a combination of drugs to destroy cancer cells or slow their growth; it is usually given by injection into a vein. Chemo is a systemic therapy, in that the drugs travel throughout the body and can kill any cancer cells that spread away from the tumour. Chemo may be given prior to surgery to shrink the tumour (pre-operative therapy/neoadjuvant therapy) or after surgery (adjuvant therapy).

Because it is a systemic therapy, chemo can damage healthy cells while it attacks the cancer cells. Chemo is associated with a number of adverse side effects that can affect various parts of the body. Many of the short-term effects will be managed by your oncology team, while others can be relieved by different treatments. Some effects may linger after chemotherapy is finished.

Hormonal drug therapy is another systemic therapy that may be used in breast cancer treatment to stop cancer cells from using the hormones they need to grow or prevents the body from making the hormone that is causing the cancer to grow. It may be given by injection or taken orally.

Treating the effects of chemo

Muscle and joint pain are common complaints during chemo, making movement difficult or uncomfortable. Nerve damage, especially at the extremities (fingers and toes), may also occur. This is referred to chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy. Joint pain is also one of the most common side effects of hormonal therapy. Massage therapy can help alleviate the pain and discomfort.

Chemo drugs can dry out your skin, leaving it more sensitive to damage and increasing the risk of infection. Understanding the importance of good skin health and taking steps to avoid skin damage are simple ways for you to proactively contribute to your treatment.

If you had surgery before starting chemo, your body is already working hard to recover from the impact of the surgery while trying to cope with the impact of the chemo drugs. You may experience fatigue, which can be exacerbated by other treatments as well as the stress of dealing with your diagnosis.

While you may not feel like exercising or you are unable to maintain your usual level of activity, fitness is important to your well-being and recovery.

Breast Rehab therapists have experience treating some of the common side effects of chemo. Our team can assess your needs and suggest therapies to assist you through and after chemo treatments. We offer massage therapy to relieve aches, pains, and tingling. We can educate you on good skin health and provide wound care. Our therapists can also work with you on a fitness regime that can be adapted to your changing needs as your chemo treatment progresses.

If chemo or radiation will be part of your cancer treatment, therapists at Breast Rehab can work with you to prepare for and manage some of the effects of these treatments. We will do whatever we can to support you to get back to doing what you love.